After the exhilaration of setting up a Newcastle show and then booking airline tickets, Friday surely couldn't have gone uphill in the evening? Well, actually it went pretty well. I went to a rehearsal for South Pacific - first one of the year. Where Guys and Dolls rehearsals are about setting wee bits and running long sections, this rehearsal was still very much in the planning stages (in fairness, the show is 2 weeks earlier in its development) and people still had scripts. Somehow I'd managed to luck out and turn up for the rehearsal where they set a couple of big chorus numbers. I discovered that I still have a few lines in "There is nothing like a dame", including the bass solo. I'm happy. We also managed to make the song look pretty good in the short session we had setting it. Compared with the totally didactic setting I've received from some directors, the inductive setting works in a suprisingly effective way. I enjoyed the rehearsal.
Lest we should get too tired rehearsing, the proceedings were ended at 9.30pm, meaning that I got the chance to turn up at the gig down the road.
Funny Bones is the name of the promotion company that organises the gig at The Cornerhouse in Heaton. It's a good name. Comedy is about moments of hilarity. You can't just expect them to happen. The audience have to be taken to the right mood for laughter. As a performer, it's not just about saying or doing funny things, it's about being funny while you're up there. In other words, you need to have a funny script AND funny bones.
Having said that, it helps if the audience are in the right mood, though if they're not, the job is to put them in the right mood. On Friday night, the audience were in a great frame of mind... this was a bit weird. I'll explain. First, though, let me set the scene. I arrived in the pub at about 10pm. The second section (often known as the easy-middle-section) was coming to a close and a scottish comedian, who is also a friend of mine, was on the stage. I didn't know he was playing - I guess we're not really close friends, though we've gone through enough gigs together to have a mutual respect. So, my initial reaction was surprise to see a friend on the stage... this surprise was coupled with amazement at how full the gig was. The gig is a popular one, but this was its first show of the year and, thus, likely to be a bit undersold (as people forgot exactly when it was etc). No. This place was full. That's great and the atmosphere was electric. This is what made it a bit weird.
The act on the stage is very funny and the other comedians (and there were loads of people from "The Business" kicking about and that also contributed to my sense of wonder about what I was watching) were whispering bits of his set to each other in the hushed tones of awe reserved for well written material. So, I can't take away from the performance the fellow was giving. What was odd, though, was the audience's reaction. It was like they were going through a religious experience of comedy, rather than just having a good laugh. These guys were acting like a group of people you might hire to be extras for a TV show where you showed a mocked-up comedy night and had them laugh in the right places. They seemed to be really going over the top on every laugh. The act surfed them like a pro, but I've never seen an audience react this way to his stuff.
This could look like I'm doing an act down, which I'm most certainly not. The headline act got a similar worshipping (similar, but more intense) and the rest of the night had gone well too. This was an audience who wanted to have a good time and did. Brilliant. It was still a bit odd. Perhaps it was made more odd by the fact that I came in after a busy day doing other things and hadn't been warmed up alongside the audience.
The headliner, Duncan Oakley, is a lovely guy and really made the audience laugh. Their mood was very receptive, though not quite right for getting the most out of the guy. During his encore, they clapped along with one of his songs and gave him a massive cheer at the end... sadly they'd not heard a word he'd sang during the song, as they were clapping along so hard! Very silly. Still, the atmosphere was great. So, it was worth going along.
I went home and tried to get some sleep, as I was gigging the following day in Scotland.
A day out
I'd arranged to meet a friend of mine at between 10 and 10.30 in the morning in order to include her in the day's trip to Edinburgh and beyond. I think that making a full day trip out of a gig is a very good thing to do - if one's going to hop around the place for gigs, you may as well take time to enjoy the scenery.
Sadly, the scenery enjoyment was somewhat diminished by my running late. Only a bit late, though. We had a leisurely drive up the A1, followed by a wander around Edinburgh, its shops and streets. During this wandering, I managed to buy some cheap bagpipes from a shop called "Thistle do nicely" - I know... it's a crap name for a shop, and fellow comedian Keir McAllister would be proud of me for shopping there - or disgusted (he mentions the shop in his act). I also bought a DVD and an hilarious burberry-tie which will be in the stand-up act from here on in.
We met up with some Edinburgh-based friends of mine for a late lunch and then things got a bit confused as my passenger went for a bit of shopping while I hung out with the Edinburgh folks... then we nearly didn't collect everyone back together in time to go to the gig... but we just made it. Despite my leaving Edinburgh city centre in slightly the wrong direction (I headed at the 9 o'clock, rather than 10 o'clock angle if that makes sense), we got to the gig without much confusion, my familiarity with Glenrothes itself meaning that I drove us straight there. It never ceases to amaze me that my knowledge of this country's geography is, in general, very poor, yet I still know small locales of totally random places that most people haven't heard of.
The gig itself went very very well. However, it started quite badly. I didn't mention that I got to bed on Friday night quite late because I chose to rehearse my stand-up. I'm mentioning it now. I rarely rehearse the stand-up as a whole, having a wee practice of new bits when I write them. However, given that I hadn't gigged in about 5 weeks, I thought I ought to go through everything. I was going to do a long-ish set and mix old and new material. I had pretty much crammed my plan into my head and just needed to write out the running order a couple of times to cement it. This whole thing was thrown into chaos the moment I arrived at the gig.
I had two passengers by the time we got to the gig. One of them - C - was the Newcastle contingent, another - L - was the Edinburgh friend. We also had a third person - E - on their way to meet us, travelling separately. With these people to organise complimentary tickets for, I was already a bit worried about getting the special "me time" to sort out my head for the forthcoming performance. In addition, I needed to soundcheck the guitar and prepare the sound man for the CD-backing-track thing I wa planning to do. Basically, I'd been really calm about this gig... but that was about to change.
When I was originally booked, it was as MC/gig manager. The organiser wasn't going to be able to turn up in person, so I was going to be his locum (not locust... actually the word locum probably doesn't work here). Anyway, that changed. I was swapped to the opening 20-25 minute bit. That was what I had prepared for. When I arrived, though, I was told that I was now MCing. Given that I'd rather intended to try out some new material, sandwiched between some of the tried and tested stuff, in a continuous block of entertainment, this change of plan put me on the spot. I needed a poo.
The soundcheck, guitar tuning and CD stuff was simple, but my heart rate was up and I was nervous. The needing of a poo was a genuine physical thing, not a nervous thing, but it facilitated a session with my notepad. I always think best when I'm sitting on the toilet. Some of my best material has been written there. That's why my act is shit (boom tish). Anyway, I managed to work some stuff out (boom tish again) on the loo and got my head together for the gig. The problem with MCing is that you have to have control of the audience - or a mutual respect with them... well, some sort of functional relationship with them for the course of the whole night. I was linking together 5 acts in 3 sections and the pressure was extra on since there was a larger-than-normal-audience, some of whom were a bit older, and the promoter wanted to be certain that this gig would lead to repeat business.
We put on a good show in total. I was pleased with a lot of things that happened. I had a good time, and while I'm enjoying it, the audience frequently come along. Some of the new bits worked pretty well out of the box. Sadly, the bit which I was most excited about bringing out, totally died on its arse. It was a real dead duck. I have a few ideas about why and I'm going to try it again, but it nearly silenced the room first time around. Yikes! And this is the routine for which I've been making backing tracks and doing intensive rehearsals. It will work, I think. It just needs me to be funnier and look more comfortable in the genre. I've not done anything like this before and it's starting to be apparent that I'll have to play with it to discover how to do it.
Despite the early disappointment of that routine failing, I had warmed the audience up sufficiently and they stayed very warm throughout. They were, quite simply, a good crowd. I often think that if a night goes well, it's down to the crowd and if it goes badly, then it's down to the performers. This gig is one of those good gigs. To make it even better, there is a table of regulars, they're students and they always sit in the front centre... and like being used as comedy foils. I wish I'd bantered more with them and the rest of the crowd since some of my better moments were when we were riffing.
I like stand-up and I'm looking forward to getting back into it when all the musicals and other things are complete. I showed how rusty I was at that gig, but I haven't "lost it". So, it gave me some confidence too. The fact that I enjoyed it and got to work with some people I love working with... that was the icing on the cake.
Well, I went home, via the flat where I used to live, which is where my passenger now lives. She doesn't live in the exact flat I lived in during my first year at university - that would be weird. No, she lives in the one that is one number higher (it's not next door, because it's on the floor above).
Arriving home late at night, what did I do? I played online Scrabble of course. What else would you do? I didn't get to bed until very late. Such is my life.
I slept in very late. Went to a rehearsal, did a bit of shopping and then messed around on the computer. I've been messing around on the computer for hours now. I've played some Scrabble. Tried to tame my MP3 player some more. Did some accounts. Chatted on instant messenger. Basically, I've watched the few waking hours I did get after a lunchtime rise out of bed, go down the toilet. It's been superb.